- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2010

DENVER | Score one for the guy in the White House. President Obama’s candidate, Sen. Michael Bennet, fended off a challenge from Bill Clinton favorite Andrew Romanoff on Tuesday to win the Colorado Democratic Senate primary and avoid the fate of other endangered incumbents this primary season.

Mr. Romanoff, a former state House speaker, who was endorsed by former President Clinton but ran as the anti-establishment candidate, conceded the race about an hour after the polls closed in Colorado. With 73 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Bennet led 54.2 percent to Mr. Romanoff’s 45.7 percent.

On a primary night of compelling matchups and intraparty intrigue, the woman who once ran pro wrestling’s biggest circuit easily won the Republican primary for the seat of retiring Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, while former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s favorite conceded the race after a cliffhanger battle with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s pick in the hard-fought GOP gubernatorial runoff in Georgia.

In Connecticut, Linda McMahon, one-time CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), easily defeated ex-Rep. Rob Simmons for the right to take on state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for the open Senate seat.

In Georgia, Karen Handel, the state secretary of state, whom Mrs. Palin endorsed as a fellow “mama grizzly,” conceded Wednesday morning to ex-Rep. Nathan Deal. Mrs. Handel, who trailed Tuesday night by less than half a percentage point, with military and other late ballots still to be counted, said she will not seek a recount. Mr. Deal, who trailed Mrs. Handel in the July 20 primary, was backed in the runoff by Mr. Huckabee and by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — both potential 2012 presidential rivals for Mrs. Palin.

A recount in the race was looking likely late Tuesday evening. The runoff winner will try to deny former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes a return to the governor’s mansion in November.

But it was a string of tight races in Colorado that claimed the most attention going into Tuesday’s primaries.

Meanwhile, the Republican side of the Colorado Senate contest was too close to call at press time. With 72 percent of the vote counted, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck led former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton by 51.5 percent to 48.4 percent.

Mrs. Norton, widely depicted as the establishment candidate, held a commanding advantage in terms of fundraising and endorsements, but Mr. Buck ran an effective insurgent campaign with the help of the state’s “tea party” movement and ads from out-of-state limited-government groups.

The biggest surprise of the night in Colorado came in the Republican gubernatorial primary, where little-known businessman Dan Maes held a narrow lead over former Rep. Scott McInnis. With 65 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Maes led by 50.1 percent to 49.8 percent.

With his name recognition and fundraising advantage, Mr. McInnis was expected to trounce the dark horse mr. Maes, but a plagiarism scandal that broke in July badly damaged the former congressman’s reputation.

Mr. McInnis’s ethical lapse — he accepted $300,000 from a foundation for an essay on water that was lifted in part from other writings — prompted the entry of former Rep. Tom Tancredo into the race. Mr. Tancredo is running as the candidate of the American Constitution Party.

Many Republicans had privately hoped that the winner of the Republican primary would withdraw from the race and allow a GOP vacancy committee to choose another candidate. Both Mr. Maes and Mr. McInnis have rejected those suggestions.

In Connecticut, Mrs. McMahon’s win sets up what could be one of the more colorful Senate races this fall. The former wrestling executive used an aggressive campaign and her deep pockets to easily dispatch Mr. Simmons, who entered the primary as the clear favorite of the GOP state party establishment.

Mr. Blumenthal has long been considered the heavy favorite to claim the Dodd seat, but discrepancies in his claims about military service and Mrs. McMahon’s willingness to spend suggest the race could tighten by November.

The parties were already sharpening their rhetorical knives for the upcoming campaign.

While National Republican Senatorial Committee head Sen. John Cornyn of Texas hailed Mrs. McMahon as “a self-made businesswoman who helped grow her company from a modest 13-person endeavor to a successful international corporation,” Democratic counterpart Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey was taking the gloves off.

“Connecticut Republicans today nominated a corporate CEO of WWE, who under her watch violence was peddled to kids, steroid abuse was rampant, yet she made her millions,” he said.

In the Democratic primary battle to succeed retiring Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy turned backed business executive Ned Lamont, the Democrats’ 2006 Senate nominee, in a minor upset. On the Republican side, former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley defeated Lt. Gov. Michael Fidele. Democrats have not elected a governor in the state since 1986.

Had he lost, Mr. Bennet would have been the third Senate incumbent to be knocked off in a primary this year, following the losses by Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett and Pennsylvania Democrat Arlen Specter this spring.

In Minnesota, former Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton was struggling in his comeback bid for governor, trailing House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher by nearly 7 percentage points with about a third of the votes counted at deadline. The winner takes on Republican state legislator Tom Emmer for the right to succeed retiring Republican Gov. Tom Pawlenty.

Despite the state’s Democratic tilt in recent elections, the party has not elected a governor since 1991.

Washington state and Wyoming hold the next primaries on Aug. 17, with Florida, Alaska and Arizona voters going to the polls a week later.

David Sands reported from Washington.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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